When people hear the word diet, they immediately think that it is unattainable, hard to maintain, and expensive. But the Mediterranean diet is more than that. It is a lifestyle that you choose to adopt. Yes, it does take some planning and getting used to. But in the long run you reduce your risk of getting diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. The emphasis lies greatly in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and seafood. The things you will have to give up is saturated fats, replacing it with healthy unsaturated fats, limiting sweets, refined sugar, refined grains, and red meat. But it is not only about what you eat, but also how you eat. Instead of eating on the go or in front of the television, you have to slow down and take time to enjoy your meal. Eating slower automatically allows your body the time to digest the food and let you know when it is full. This will lead you to eating smaller portions and still feeling satiated. Even if your goal is not to lose weight, it is still a healthy eating plan that holds many other benefits.
Why is the Mediterranean diet good for diabetes?
Unlike other diets that are rigid and with several off-limit food items, this diet – or eating plan – is quite flexible. The reason why other diets do not work is because of how rigid they are, and how unattainable it is. It cannot work in the long run, and it makes it very hard to prepare meals for the entire family instead of just yourself. Even if you do not have a family of your own to cook for, there will still be family gatherings or friend gatherings, where you might feel left out because you cannot eat with them. It is also an easy diet to adopt, as the food that you focus on isn’t more expensive than other food items in the shops. From the get go you will know that you have to change your eating habits if you are diagnosed with diabetes, and the Mediterranean diet is the easiest and least expensive choice. But that is not the only reason why the Mediterranean diet stands out above the others. The Mediterranean diet includes foods that help manage your blood sugars, as well as limiting foods that raises your blood sugars quickly. Diabetes also goes hand in hand with other health problems such as heart disease, which makes the Mediterranean diet such a great choice. Because it includes unsaturated fats, avoids refined sugars and high-fat dairy products, and incorporates high-fiber foods and fresh produce, it makes it a heart-healthy diet which also improves blood sugar.
What do I eat?
There are so many options to work with, which allows you to whip up the most amazing dishes. There are many Mediterranean cookbooks available, which will also help to guide you in what you can serve up. Plus there is something for everyone.
Let’s start off with vegetables. There is such a wide variety of vegetables to choose from that it will make your head spin! Plus there is no vegetable that is off limits. Think of all that you can do with a simple potato, or the magic powers of pumpkin, or even the limitless options of an aubergine. The more vegetables, the better!
Next up on the list is fruit. Again, you have a whole world of fruit to choose from. This is also your chance to try out fruits of the world. From berries and plums to apples and kiwis, the sky is the limit. Never had jackfruit before? Try it out! Experience fruits that come from other countries, and you might be surprised at how many different fruits there are to sample and work into your daily diet. Did you know that there are more than 10 000 different varieties of tomatoes? And as many as 1000 different varieties of mangoes? So the world is your oyster. Which brings us to our next food item.
Seafood in Mediterranean diet
Seafood, especially fish, is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. The ocean is big, and holds many treasures. The rule of thumb is of course that you always buy from responsibly sourced vendors, as we do want to keep the ocean safe. These vendors also wants to keep you safe, so they process the produce safely. It is always fun to buy fresh from the docks, but this is not something that everyone can do. But packaged fish can be just as good. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, hake and haddock are just some of the delicious fish that are readily available. If you can go a bit more expensive then you can always get yourself some prawns or mussels. The fresher the better, since some packaged fish contains a lot of sodium in the water which they are preserved in.
Next up we have whole grains. We have our well-known favorites such as muesli, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-wheat bread and oatmeal. But we also have more recent contenders in the ring namely quinoa and bulgur. Other whole grains you can look to is barley, buckwheat, millet and popcorn (sans the throat-closing dusting of flavorings). Because whole grains are naturally high in fiber, it helps you to feel full and satisfied for longer. Another reason why whole grains are so important is because it contains important nutrients such as vitamin B, iron, selenium, folate, magnesium and potassium.
Now we look at the legumes you can include in your diet. From the lowly peanut up to the famous black-eyed pea, there is a wide variety to choose from. Lentils are also a popular legume, and there are about 16 000 different legumes to pick from. Green beans and show peas in their pods are popular, and can even be eaten fresh off the vine as a snack. Sugar peas are becoming quite popular in salads, and chickpeas make a delicious soup. If you prefer to buy canned beans, opt for the low sodium variety, and rinse the beans to get rid of as much sodium as possible. Fresh is always better, but for some people it can be time-consuming to prepare certain beans.
Fats in Mediterranean diet
Next we have healthy fats. Here you have another silver platter to pick from. From different nuts and seeds to avocados and canola oil, your options become absolutely limitless. Let’s take a cashew nut. It is packed with healthy fats and also serves as a secondary source of protein. It is so high in healthy fats that nutritionists suggest that you limit your cashew nut consumption to about 15 cashews a day. Plus again you have about 53 types of nuts to choose from. This does not include your sibling! Nuts make for a great snack, and can be used in a variety of different dishes. Each type of nut has its own unique and beautiful taste, so you can go nuts for nuts!
Where’s the science?
Published articles from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition cite the works of scientists who have studied different types of diets. Of all the different diets, the Mediterranean diet came out on top. As quoted by Dr BetulHatipoglu, “These healthy choices make the diet very rich in monounsaturated fat and fibre, and both have been known to lower cholesterol and blood sugar in people with diabetes.” In the study that was conducted over a three month period, they found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a much lower A1C score. This score is measured by the average blood sugar levels in a person.
Since diabetes often walk hand-in-hand with cardiovascular disease, as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol, the Mediterranean diet has been proven to combat all of these risk factors. It is also beneficial to people who have Type 2 diabetes and people who are pre-diabetic. Research showed that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the diet reduced the odds of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes by up to 30%. The high concentration of polyphenols in the food also assists in decreasing insulin resistance. This review was published in the August 2017 issue of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Further studies also showed that people who formed part of the study easily adapted to the Mediterranean diet, since it is more of a lifestyle change than a diet. It could therefore be easily adopted into their day-to-day lifestyle, which made it attainable and highly beneficial.
When you adopt the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle, your world changes for the better. Although there are some bad habits to be broken, such as eating processed meats and sugary cereals, and drinking soda, there is so much to be gained from it. For people who like to get fast food from time to time, it is also not the end. Some sushi goes a long way, and you will find yourself craving more. There are also amazing Mediterranean restaurants that you can visit for a night out on the town, and enjoy a glass or two of some red wine. So no, your life will not come to an end. It is simply beginning on a fresher, healthier page.